Friday, February 26, 2010

News Roundup

Hello Fair Ground readers -
Just a quick roundup of interesting - and mostly wonderful! - stories that came across my desk today.

A very well-done blog post over on Civil Eats - Farmers Fighting for their Health - based on a story in The Ecologist - Cancer and Pesticides: "After long battles, three farmers in France have won legal claims that their cases of cancer and Parkinson's disease were caused by working with pesticides. Now they want to help others fight similar cases." Wow!

Smithfield Pork just appointed a new Sustainability Coordinator. Yes, you read that right: Smithfield....Sustainability....weird to have them in the same sentence, no? Here's Smithfield's press release, and a blog post about this move over on Sustainable Food at Best of luck, Mr. Treacy - you've got a heck of a job in front of you.

And finally, the Triangle's own Crop Mob is in the NY Times Magazine! They're a group of people interested in sustainable farming who do big group workdays at local farms. The photo at right is of a January crop mob at Okfuskee Farm in Siler City, taken by flicker user quitter. More photos and info on their website -

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

America's Most Wanted Toxic Chemicals

by Andy Igriegas
Campaign Director, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families
Reposted with permission

One way we'll know that Congress is serious about reforming the nation's chemical laws is by how they address a group of extremely dangerous chemicals that are the equivalent of the FBI's "Most Wanted" list: Persistent, Bioaccumulative Toxins or PBTs.

Some of the most notorious chemicals ever studied are PBTs - lead, PCBs, DDT, dioxin mercury, and cadmium. Many PBTs, including flame retardants and the stain-resistant perfluorinated chemicals (like PFOA used to make Teflon), are still found in products we use every day in our homes and places of work.

Persistent, toxic chemicals build up in our bodies and are passed on to the next generation. This is especially troubling to parents like Molly Gray, who want their children to have safe, happy and healthy lives that are free of toxic chemicals that may harm their health.

Molly's concern for this issue is deeply personal. Molly was part of a study that tested pregnant women for toxic chemicals; their developing babies were exposed to these chemicals during pregnancy.

Molly thought she'd test chemical-free because in the five years before becoming pregnant, Molly had done everything she could to reduce her exposure to toxic chemicals, including eating organic food, choosing low-mercury fish and avoiding personal care products with phthalates and fragrances.

Instead, despite taking precautions leading up to her pregnancy, Molly learned she had the highest levels of mercury – a PBT – of all the women tested in the study. And she tested above the national average for other chemicals tested, including phthalates, BPA, flame retardants, and "Teflon" chemicals.

We helped get Molly and her seven-month-old son Paxton to Washington, DC so she could tell Congress that what we don't know about toxic chemicals is harming real people, right now.

Senator Frank Lautenberg, who will soon introduce legislation to update the nation's chemical safety law, expressed concern, saying, " … in essence, the American public has become a living, breathing repository for chemical substances. And when the chemicals…show up on our children's bodies, we have a potentially dangerous situation."

The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition agrees with Senator Lautenberg. We believe it should be a no-brainer for Congress to put PBTs on a pathway to phase-out when it reforms
the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Unfortunately, even no-brainer ideas have run into trouble recently, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the chemical industry. The chemical industry is trying to avoid action by convincing Congress that the right thing to do is to spend more years "studying" chemicals; chemicals that scientists have already shown to be notorious and dangerous.

Please write to your member of Congress to tell them that real TSCA reform will include taking immediate action to phase PBT chemicals out of commerce.

Monday, February 15, 2010

An awful tragedy (and what we can do about it)

Last week began with the terrible news that a 4 year-old girl in Layton, Utah was killed after gas from a powerful rat poison seeped into her home. Two days later, the girl's 15 month-old sister also died in the hospital. Both girls were buried by their family yesterday, on Valentine's Day.

The Friday before the girls became sick, an exterminator spread several times the recommended amount of Fumitoxin, a phosphine-producing rat poison for which there is no known antidote, in the yard around the girls' home to take care of a vole problem. The contractor failed to follow the label for the poison, which listed specific instructions for quantity and appropriate distance from buildings.

As heartbreaking as this story is, it's made even more so by virtue of the fact that it was completely, 100% preventable. Had the contractor chosen one of the many least-toxic alternatives, or even just followed the label instructions, we probably never would have even heard of the Toone family.

The bottom line, though, is that a product this dangerous shouldn't be available for casual use. Given the plethora of safer alternatives that exist, maybe we don't need Fumitoxin at all--many pest control companies have already stopped using it because it is so risky. Unfortunately the current process for restricting or banning a pesticide (or any chemical, for that matter) is convoluted and strongly favors the manufacturer.

Until now, that is. We are on the brink of big changes in our nation's approach to chemical regulation. There is a large movement building across the country to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)--a 30 year-old regulatory device that has never properly worked. While TSCA wouldn't directly change the laws which apply to pesticides (i.e. FIFRA), it will almost certainly lead to the reform of those laws.

Check out this beautiful video highlighting the need to improve the way we regulate ALL chemicals for the health of our children, ourselves and the planet. From there you can sign a petition, tell a friend, write a letter to your congressperson--whatever you want to do to show support for this long overdue reform.

Our hearts go out to the family of those two little girls, even as we continue working for a safer and healthier future.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New NC Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council convenes

North Carolina's brand new Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council met for the first time on Feb 2nd in Raleigh. The Council is charged with making recommendations to the NC General Assembly about how to grow and strengthen North Carolina's sustainable and local food system.

Thank you to everyone who helped Toxic Free NC and our partners at the NC Sustainable Food Systems Coalition advocate for the legislation that created this Council last year. Nice work, folks - we couldn't have done it without you!

Below are some of my notes and impressions from the meeting, but here's the super short version: The Council is a very impressive group of people, and while they didn't actually get to start doing much of anything yet in their first meeting, my sense coming out of it was one of sincere optimism for what they'll achieve.

* Lots of people: All but one Council member was in attendance, and this with the roads still a bit dicey across the state because of snow a few days earlier. Nice! Lots of other people also came to watch - the Department of Agriculture had to pull out more chairs, and it was still standing-room-only.

* Input from the public (or lack thereof). Open meeting laws mean that all the Council's meetings must be open to the public, and that there must be minutes or recordings also made available to the public - keep an eye on this website for meeting agendas and notes. Anything sent to or from the Council about this body is also public record. But, there was no time for public comment at the Council's meeting. There's a way to submit comments over their website, which will then become part of public record, but what's the plan for actually reading and following up on them? That hasn't been discussed yet, but based on attendance at the first meeting, it sure seems like North Carolinians have a lot to say to this Council!

* The Council members. Everyone on the Council introduced themselves and their motivations for serving at this meeting, which made me think a lot about the Council's make-up and how that will affect the recommendations they make. The full membership list is posted here. My observations:
FARMERS: There are 8 farmers and one person in commercial fishing on the Council by my count - mostly small or medium-scale, and mostly organic or sustainable. I think this will give the Council's work a solid grounding. There's lots to talk about, but there's also lots to DO, and farmers tend to be doers, so this is a good thing indeed.

THEMES: One big theme in many of the Council members' introductions was a desire to preserve working farmland. Commissioner Troxler, Andrew Brannan (Farm Transitions Network), Dania Davy (Land Loss Prevention Project), and John Day (NC Association of County Commissioners) all spoke directly to the issue of keeping farmers on their land and farming during their introductions.
Another big theme that I heard in Council member introductions was improving access to healthy and affordable food, especially as it pertains to combating childhood obesity. Members who mentioned this specifically as part of their introductions include Dr. Jeffrey Engel (State Health Director), Dr. Lynn Harvey (Department of Public Instruction, Child Nutrition Services), Dr. Alice Ammerman (Center for Health Promotion and Disease Control at UNC-CH), Earline Middleton (Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC), Mary James (Dogwood Farms & Willing Workers Cooperative), and Willy Phillips (Full Circle Crab Company).

DIVERSITY: The Council is a very diverse group in terms of expertise and geography, and it could be a lot worse on gender and race. By my (strictly superficial) count, the Council is made up of 18 Caucasian men, 5 Caucasian women, and 3 African American women. That isn't nearly enough women or people of color to fairly represent our state's population, but it's more than I'm used to seeing in such contexts. Conclude from that information what you will! Notably absent are Latinos, farm workers, or anyone who could speak knowledgeably to the perspectives of those groups.
* "This is not a fad. It's a force." The Council got a little pep talk from John Vollmer of Vollmer Farms. John spoke mostly about his recent trip to New England, and his vision that North Carolina, like Vermont, could be gaining farms instead of losing them, and that we could produce enough food to feed our state year-round. Vermont's food system is like a farm-fresh tomato, he said, a tomato that's so good, it makes you wonder why you ever bothered buying lousy tomatoes out of season at the grocery store! We don't yet really know what we're missing in NC, but once we get a taste, we'll never go back. He also addressed Commissioner Troxler directly to say, "This is not a fad. It's a force."

* Leadership & Super-fast Robert's Rules. The final order of business in the first Council meeting was discussing leadership structures for the Council and electing a chair. Commissioner Troxler was elected chair and Nancy Creamer vice-chair in rapid succession. In fact, it was very rapid - the Council suddenly swung into Robert's Rules at this point, full throttle, and it moved really fast! We really hope that Council members weren't too caught off guard by the sudden transition. In any case, from the discussion around these elections, it sounded like the plan is to tap some other Council members to serve on a leadership committee that will work with the chairs to set agendas and coordinate subcommittees.

That's it! Thanks again to everyone who helped to bring this Council into being, and a huge thanks to everyone who is volunteering to serve on this Council. Please stay tuned for more updates.